Blu-ray Review: “Total Recall” and “Looper”

Written by Blu-ray Reviews, Film

Looper is great science fiction. Total Recall? I’ll let you be the judge.

total-recall-blu-ray-cover-76The latest remake that Hollywood has pushed on us is Total Recall, a pretty straightforward retelling of the 1990 Paul Verhoven/Arnold Schwarzenegger science fiction hit. Although new writers have taken a stab at this adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, the 2012 Total Recall is close enough to the original that Dan O’Bannon, who scripted the 1990 film receives a writer’s credit. Director Len Wisemen, who directed one of the Die Hard sequels and a couple of the Underworld films, brings a modern flair and quick pace to the movie. Overall, the production value and acting are strong, but once the movie ends there isn’t a lasting feeling that demands you watch it again.

Colin Farrell takes over the lead role in the update, binging an everyman quality (albeit, a hunky everyman) to the role. His character is Quaid, a blue collar factory worker in the future who has a recurring dream of once being some kind of secret agent. Quaid is married to a beautiful cop (Kate Beckinsale) and seems to have a good life. But he can’t shake the feeling that the dream (which involves another different beautiful woman, Jessica Biel) means something. Against everyone’s wishes, Quaid goes to Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories in the minds of their clients. Before he can go under for his mind trip, though, Rekall is stormed by soldiers, Quaid goes all Jason Bourne, taking out an entire batallion, and he becomes a fugitive. Quaid quickly learns that his dream is actually a memory and his blue collar life is a lie.

The timing of this remake couldn’t be better. Dystopian science fiction is all the rage and Wiseman brings to the film some remarkable chase sequences that should make you say “Holy shit,” more than a couple of times. But those chases are the highlight of an otherwise average movie. Colin Farrell is solid as the lead while Bryan Cranston, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel providing nice supporting work. The special effects are as good as any mainstream movie out there, and the few plot changes made to update the film aren’t too distracting. The problem though, is that the film doesn’t feel original. I know, it’s a remake, so if you’ve seen the 1990 original you know mostly what’s going to happen. However, thanks to Minority Report, another Philip K. Dick adaptation about a man on the run, but expertly directed by Steven Spielberg (and coincidentally co-starring Farrell) we feel like we’ve seen this film before. On top of that, The Bourne Identity did the man with amnesia who discovers he’s a killing machine so well that even if the original Total Recall did it first, this new one suffers because there’s no way not to think of Matt Damon.

What you end up is a big, glossy, expensive sci-fi film that leaves you feeling kind of empty. It’s mindless entertainment, but unlike, say, The Avengers, which is mindless but well written and funny and worth repeated viewings, Total Recall is worth just one screening. After that you’re likely to forget it and go seeking something with a little more substance.  If you’re looking for such a film, I highly recommend Looper.

Writer/director Rian Johnson’s third motion picture (he also directed the teen noir, Brick, and the caper film, The Brothers Bloom) is his biggest to date, not just in budgetary terms, but also in ambition. On the looper-blu-ray-imagesurface this is a science fiction film about time travel that veers into Stephen King territory sometime around the middle of the second act. By the end, though, it becomes clear that this is a film about lost childhood and parenthood.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play the same man. In the present, Gordon-Levitt is Joe, a “looper.’  He works for the mob, killing men sent back through time and disposing of their bodies. It’s a lucrative job, but one that has a time clock attached to it. At some point, Joe knows that his bosses (in the future) are going to send his future-self back in time without him knowing it and Joe will kill and dispose of his future self. That’s where Bruce Willis’ Joe comes into play. When he’s sent back in time to get killed, he decides the change the game plan by exposing himself to the young Joe. He escapes, deciding he’s going to kill a young child who will grow up to become the most terrified mob boss in the future. Young Joe and older Joe face off and eventually get separated. While future Joe hunts down two of the three children, young Joe winds up at the residence of the third child, a sweet young boy living with his mother.

If you’re already lost based on my attempt at describing the plot, I apologize. Despite the convoluted nature of any time-travel story, Johnson makes sense of it. He doesn’t try to complicate the movie with explanations about how it all works (in fact, he makes fun of that very notion) he does what any good science fiction writer should do: he plays it straight and assumes that his audience will catch on.

Looper is filled with a lot of thrilling moments, it is beautifully shot, it has four outstanding performances in Gordon-Levitt (working under prosthetics to look more like Willis), Willis, Jeff Daniels and Emily Blunt, and it has a deeply emotional third act that is sure to move you.

Both Blu-rays come with some nice Blu-ray features.